October 2015

This month’s document has been chosen by Lisa Stevens, our Digitisation Assistant, and Colin Corke, one of our knowledgeable Archive Volunteers.

This site plan was discovered when we were sorting through a drawer of uncatalogued large-format documents, stuck to the back of a foam board which held a few dog-eared photographs that had once been part of some kind of presentation. Ironically, the back of the board seemed more interesting than the front, so we carefully detached the plan and asked our Conservation Assistant, Cath, to repair the tears and flatten the creases so we could take a better look. It was still unclear to us, however, what site was depicted. Given its poor condition, we decided to scan and reprint it to A3 size so we could study it more closely.

Why This Document?

Lisa: I chose this document because I enjoyed the challenge of turning something large and in poor condition into a readable document. Our largest scanner can handle up to A3 size (42cm x 30cm) but the site plan is A0 size which is eight times bigger than this. So it presented quite a problem, as the detailed drawing needed to be reproduced accurately. I carefully scanned the plan in sections, making sure that each scan was of exactly the same proportion and orientation. This resulted in eight individual scans. Using Adobe Photoshop, I then resized each scan and manoeuvred them to fit together by nudging each section into place, making sure they linked accurately. I then saved the new image as a complete document and printed an A3 version which could be safely handled and interpreted. This was when I turned to our volunteer, Colin, whose expertise in the history of British Leyland/Rover Group is often my first port of call when trying to solve this kind of puzzle.

Colin: When Lisa showed me this drawing I was immediately intrigued. At first glance it was not clear which factory it referred to, or what the purpose of the plan was. Because we did not know its provenance, this was a classic example of an historic document devoid of any context, meaning it would require detective work to identify it. The first and most obvious piece of information was the fact it was labelled ‘Unipart’, but Unipart had more than one operational location so it was necessary to look for further clues.

We seemed to be dealing with a proposal to relocate certain operations. The colour coded key referred to ‘On-site moves’ and ‘Off-site moves’. External locations included ‘Gaydon’, ‘Longbridge’ and ‘Solihull’ which meant these could all be ruled out. There were also dates for actions to be taken, stretching fom October 1993 to September 1994. This made us think, initially, that the former Pressed Steel site at Cowley was the more likely location, as it was extensively redeveloped as part of the movements within Rover Group around that time. A further complication, however, was that there was no guarantee that this plan had ever been put into effect. Such plans would often be drawn up and then circumstances would intervene to change them – the arrival of BMW in 1994 might well have been one such change.

Further thought and some lateral thinking led us to conclude that it was in fact a proposal for changes at the former Standard Triumph site at Canley, Coventry. This was also being redeveloped at this time, and contained some of the areas identified on the plan, including a prototype and styling function. The conclusive piece of evidence turned out to be the phrase ‘CB40 team to Solihull’. We discovered that this was the original codename for a project to build a small Land Rover. Conceived at Canley (hence its Rover designation CB40 meaning Canley Building 40), it would be developed in the BMW era at Solihull to become the Freelander.

The restored document is a fascinating snapshot of a point in time in the history of the motor industry. The early 1990s was a period of great change as the once mighty British Leyland, now re-invented as Rover Group, contracted its activities in an effort to become a more efficient organisation. Though this particular facility was made over to Unipart, a few years later it would be sold off and ultimately demolished so the site, which stands next to the Fletchamstead Highway, could be redeveloped as a retail complex.

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